I still remember a certain evening bow hunt many years ago at a hunting property in Copiah County that I owned at the time.
Hunting alone, I had chosen a ladder stand that was situated on a fence line separating mixed timbered hills from a field covered in broom sedge.
Once shooting light had waned, I gathered my hunting kit and climbed down in preparation for a short, but strenuous uphill pull along a sinuous woods lane back to the camp house.
For no particular reason, as I recall, in spite of it being almost dark, I chose to hike back without the aid of a flash light, just using what ambient star light filtered down through the tree tops. To this day there is still something almost magical about hiking back to camp in the dark, especially when the air is frosty and each exhalation is punctuated by a cloud of vapor.
This particular night, though, was early fall, right after bow season opened, and it was not cold. As this happened around 35 years ago, I was still a little green in some areas.
Slinging my bow over my shoulder, I began the hike back, looking up frequently at the starlit gap in the tree canopy that roughly marked the track of the woods lane.
After progressing through the gloom about 100 yards, I was startled to suddenly hear right in front of me what sounded like steam venting from a tea kettle.
Now, being 6 feet tall with around a 3- foot stride, that placed this sudden, strange noise only one additional stride or just 3 feet from my toes as I screeched to a halt.
Jumping back and grabbing my mini-mag flashlight out of my pocket, I flicked the switch on — revealing a large, angry, coiled and rattle-buzzing rattlesnake situated right in the center of the woods lane.
Its head was up and drawn back in that classic “come any closer and I will strike” pose.
I came away with a definite lesson learned, and I did not afterward roam around woods and fields in warm weather after dark without using a flash light or wearing appropriate snake boots or chaps.
This was the first of many close calls I have had with poisonous snakes — and, luckily, over the years all of my learning has come without being bitten.
My overall closest call was from a daytime encounter a few years back with a moccasin.
Bending over to remove a large limb from a woods road that was covered in late-fall leaf litter, my son, who was standing nearby, yelled “snake!” just as my hand grasped the limb.
I jumped back like I had just touched a red-hot branding iron.
Luckily for me, the snake’s aim was off, and it missed as it struck at my hand.
Retelling all of my poisonous-snake encounters that have occurred over my past 45 years or so hunting career would require a moderate-sized volume for the book shelf.
My whole purpose here, though, is to use these two cautionary tales to get the reader in tune with the season of the year that we are now in here in the Deep South.
Personally, I have worn out several pairs of knee-length, snake-proof, Cordura zip-up-the-side snake boots over the past 15 or 20 years.
If you spend any time at all between now and late fall in your favorite woods, fields or swamps, I strongly suggest you invest in a good pair of snake-proof boots. And if you already own snake boots, wear them when you are afield.
Yes, snake boots can be a pain. They can be hot and bothersome, but the negative repercussions from a poisonous snake bite can be terrible — physiologically, medically and financially.
Let’s look closer at legless reptiles of the poisonous persuasion and what makes them tick.
The three major categories of poisonous snake we typically encounter statewide are rattlers, copperheads and moccasins. All three of them are pit vipers, with triangular heads, thick bodies and thin necks.
They also can fold their fangs against the top of their mouths.
Pit vipers kill their prey and defend themselves using their injectable poison. Uniquely, no other animal can make and store as much poison in their bodies as poisonous snakes can.
One thing to bear in mind is that the toxicity of some snake poisons can be much stronger than others. Surprisingly, copperhead and rattler poison is actually relatively weak in the world of poisonous snakes.
With proper precaution, there is little excuse for anyone to be bitten, but if you are bitten by a poisonous snake, prompt medical attention is very important.
If bitten the effects are dramatic, but with the availability of injectable antidote serums, a full recovery is the most-common outcome.
Using the rattler as an example, its poison is made and stored in small glands in the head, just beneath and behind the eyes.
Small tubes lead from the poison glands to the rattler’s fangs in the roof of the mouth. The fangs are just like the hollow needles that doctors use to give shots.
When a rattler bites, certain muscles in the snake’s head contract, squeezing poison from the poison sacks down the tubes and through the fangs.
Avoiding poisonous snakes is the best way to keep from being bitten, but avoidance is not very practical when wading through thick vegetation this time of year as we enjoy the outdoors.
The absolute best safety measure is to wear a really good set of snake boots or chaps. How hard can that be? An investment of around $100 to $150 could turn out to be the best money you ever spend.